INDIANAPOLIS — He’s not an easy player to label.
Kevin Kramer isn’t an overly imposing figure at the plate, not someone you would immediately assume hits for power. He’s shown too much speed for that label.
But he also doesn’t have the appearance of a small guy that has to rely on his speed to create opportunities. He has shown too much power for that label.
That’s part of the attractiveness of Kramer as a prospect. It’s also what makes him differentiate himself from others.
“You have to like offensively that he’s a middle infielder that can drive the ball from the left side,” Indianapolis hitting coach Ryan Long said. “That’s his separator. … I wouldn’t say he’s a big guy, but I wouldn’t say he’s a small guy. He’s not a giant but yet he can drive the ball to all parts of the field. The hit tool is going to be his separator at the end.”
Fittingly, Long quickly adds versatility to the list of traits that make Kramer intriguing.
“Versatility is something he’s going continue to build on by playing second or short, who knows, maybe third (base) down the road?” Long said. “Even trying to add some weapons with the bunt game and running game.”
Kramer played three games at third base last week, the first time he’s played the position as a professional. How much Kramer can perform well at the position as the organization has shown the desire to make every player as versatile as possible.
So, don’t feel bad if you aren’t quite sure how to categorize Kramer. He’s actually not able to do a lot better himself.
“I wouldn’t go power but I also wouldn’t go contact,” Kramer said. “I think it’s an interesting role for me, with my past as a contact hitter. I always have that in my back pocket, but I strike out too much to be a contact guy.”
Kramer adjusted to becoming less of a contact hitter and more of a power guy prior to last season. That led to a few more strikeouts, about 10 percent more this season, compared to the 14 percent strikeout rate he had in Bradenton in 2016.
In exchange, he’s shown more power by already hitting 11 home runs over the last two seasons. Kramer previously hit four homers in his first three seasons of professional baseball.
“I’m a little bit of a hybrid,” Kramer said. “A guy that is going to drive the ball into the gaps, a guy that will hit a lot of line drives. I don’t ever want to take that away from my game. I think when I was a contact hitter in 2016 I hit a lot of hard ground balls and low line drives. Well, I’ll never take the line drives out of my game. Now, it’s just more of an emphasis to drive the ball more.”
Kramer said he has attempted to not be so direct to the ball, avoiding hitting down on the ball. That left his margin of error too small in the past. If he was perfect with his swing, Kramer had success with that approach and could spray the field with line drives. He just had to be a little more on top of his swing in order to have success.
“Now, with the swing that we have created over the past couple of years it gives you more room for error,” Kramer said. “You’re not going to be perfect all of the time. Your timing might be off or your swing plane might be off. That’s what we’ve noticed — the line drives went up even though sometimes it wasn’t perfect. Getting the ball into the air for me has been beneficial as far as driving the ball.”
Opposing teams have shifted defensively against Kramer at times, moving the third baseman to the shortstop position and others further toward first base.
That’s when Kramer needs to play the short game to succeed, Long said.
“He hasn’t done it enough and he needs to continue to believe in it a little bit,” Long said. “I know he can do it, he came from a school (UCLA) where they did it all of the time. I think the hit tool takes over sometimes and he thinks, ‘Man, I can drive the ball why bunt?’ A lot of guys understand the big picture of development. How is it going to look in Pittsburgh. Take advantage of those bunt opportunities. Take advantage of what they’re giving me.”
A few hours after Long made that comment, Kramer homered and gave good reason as to why he might believe in his power over the short game. He estimated getting about 20 bunt base hits during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. So, when given the opportunity, he’ll be ready.
Despite his versatility, how and where Kramer will fit into the long-term plans of the organization is unclear. One thing is certain: he’s got some competition. Kevin Newman is primarily playing second base this season, a possible indicator the organization views Cole Tucker as the long-term shortstop for the Pirates. But Newman’s move to second could take away an opportunity from Kramer, but the latter isn’t quite willing to relinquish any long-term opportunities.
“I think play is going to determine that,” Kramer said. “First and foremost, you have to produce. I want that and want production to be the one thing that matters. … As far as my path, everyone has a unique path. As we move on and continue to play, that stuff is going to all take care of itself.”
Kramer could become an everyday player in the major leagues, with Newman still able to play shortstop. But whether Kramer remains past the arrival of Cole Tucker down the road will rely on the development of all three players in the mix for middle infield positions.